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Myth and Appropriation: Fryderyk Chopin in the Context of Russian and Polish Literature and Culture

  • Author(s): Lin, Tony Hsiu
  • Advisor(s): Nesbet, Anne
  • Frick, David
  • et al.

Fryderyk Chopin's fame today is too often taken for granted. Chopin lived in a time when Poland did not exist politically, and the history of his reception must take into consideration the role played by Poland's occupying powers. Prior to 1918, and arguably thereafter as well, Poles saw Chopin as central to their "imagined community." They endowed national meaning to Chopin and his music, but the tendency to glorify the composer was in a constant state of negotiation with the political circumstances of the time. This dissertation investigates the history of Chopin's reception by focusing on several events that would prove essential to preserving and propagating his legacy. Chapter 1 outlines the indispensable role some Russians played in memorializing Chopin, epitomized by Milii Balakirev's initiative to erect a monument in Chopin's birthplace Żelazowa Wola in 1894. Despite their political tension, Russia and Poland came together in the common cause of venerating Chopin. Chapter 2 examines two instances of the Russian-Polish cooperation: Chopin centennial celebrations in 1910 and 1949. These celebrations featured speeches and commemorative concerts that later became the norm. Chapter 3 considers the International Chopin Piano Competition, founded in independent Poland in 1927. As one of the earliest international musical contests of its kind and scale, the Chopin Competition effectively turned Chopin from a national into an international figure. Furthermore, the public nature of the competition led to the engagement of the entire society, involving spectators and the press. Besides the three main chapters, two Interludes survey the representations of Chopin and his music in Russian and Polish literature. In addition to literature, this dissertation analyzes works of visual art and music to consider the process of mythmaking and its implications.

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